Pen History, 1860’s+: The Washington Medallion Pen Company, Part 3

As we saw in the previous account of the beginnings of the Washington Medallion Pen Company, the late 1850’s was a busy time for this new manufacturer. With aggressive marketing, they managed to spread the market for the Washington Medallion pens across the east coast and into the mid-west.

It seems, though, that by late 1860, the pen business was not doing so well for Albert Granger and the other officers of the Washington Medallion Pen company. In a later statement, Harrison and Bradford claim that in December of 1860, Washington Medallion may have stopped making pens altogether.

What is clear is that in 1862, George Harrison and George Bradford formed their own company, Harrison & Bradford, and purchased from their former employer, Washington Medallion, all the machines, dies and tools to make the Washington Medallion Pens and began to make the pens under contract to the Washington Medallion Pen Company. They claimed that the machines had been “lying idle for fifteen months” when they began production in March of 1862.

In December of 1863, Harrison and Bradford discovered that the design patent had expired earlier that year. Believing that Albert Granger no longer owned the design, they began early the next year to make their own “Harrison & Bradford Washington Medallion Pens.”

Harrison & Bradford not only manufactured the Harrison & Bradford Washington Medallion Pen, copying the look of the pen, as well as the look of the box, but they also began to make their own line of pens during this period.

Later, in 1864, just months after they began production of their own version of the pen, the Washington Medallion Pen Co. filed suit against Harrison & Bradford in New York State Supreme Court for trade mark infringement.

Washington Medallion Pen Co. vs. Harrison, Bradford, et. al.

The law suit was accompanied by an injunction forbidding H&B from making any more Washington Medallion pens. It also named Eberhard Faber and Faber’s partner in the stationery business, James B. Hodgskin, as part of the suit since Eberhard Faber were Harrison & Bradford’s sole agents for selling these pens, as well as their self-branded Harrison & Bradford pens.

In 1864 we we see a flurry of announcements and articles about this law suit in the New York Herald.

First, on July 19th an announcement appeared that said that the defendants had filed a motion to lift the injunction, and since the plaintiffs were not ready yet for trial, the judge lifted the injunction, allowing the defendants to continue selling the pens.

On August 2, a short description of the case appeared on page 8

The Steel Pen Controversy

Supreme Court

Before Hon. G. G. Barnard

August 1 – Washington Medallion Pen Company vs. George Harrison and George Bradford – the defendants are the manufacturers of the Harrison & Bradford Washington Medallion pen, and the plaintiffs some time since obtained an exparte injunction restraining the defendants from manufacturing said pen

The plaintiffs claim that the term Washington Medallion was invented by Albert Granger, and that they, under license of said Granger, used that term as a trademark. On the other hand, the defendants claimed that the term Washington Medallion was not new; that it had been used by the American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company before it had been used by the plaintiff, and that it was a term in common use, which could not be converted into a trade mark; that the plaintiffs ceased to manufacture pens in December, 1860, and had not since manufactured any; that in March, 1862 the defendants bought of the plaintiffs all of the machinery and tools used by them in manufacturing pens, and that since that time and until January, 1864, the defendants had manufactured the pens for Albert Granger, supposing him to be the patentee; that about January of 1864 they learned that Granger had no patent for the pen; that since making that discovery they had sent the pen into the market as “Harrison & Bradford’s Washington Medallion Pen.”

The defendant moved to dissolve the injunction, and the motion was argued at great length, before Judge G. G. Barnard, who had the same under consideration, and this morning decided in favor of the defendants, dissolving the injunction. Galbraith & Townsend for defendants, Abbot & Fuller for plaintiffs

Two days later, on the fourth appeared announcements in the New York Herald.  First, the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

1864 lawsuit plaintiffs

Washington Medallion Pen Company vs. Eberhard Faber and Others

To the Editor of the Herald

The article in your paper of August 2, headed “The Steel Pen Controversy,” is reference to the above suit, is so worded as to leave an impression on the mind of the public that there has been a final hearing and trial therein. This is not so. The injunction refused was merely a temporary one, asked for pending the litigation, and its refusal has no effect whatsoever upon the merits of the case. The judge who granted the motion gave no opinion whatever, and his decision is embraced in his endorsement on the papers, “Motion granted, injunction dissolved.” He probably deemed the defendant’s denial of all the equities of plaintiff’s bill sufficient reason for the dissolution of the ex parte injunction. The case will be tried in the fall, and the result of that trial will alone determine whether the plaintiff is or is not entitled to use the words “Washington Medallion” as its trade mark.

Abbett & Fuller, Plaintiff’s Attorneys.

Two pages later,

1864 lawsuit defendants

Notice to the Stationers and Fancy Goods Dealers – The publication in the Herald on the 2nd inst. of what purports to be an adjudication of the suit of the Washington Medallion Pen Company against Eberhard Faber and others is calculated to lead you to think the case terminated. The Court passed no opinion on the merits of the case; but simply granted an order vacating a preliminary injunction. The suit will be tried at the earliest possible moment, and until it is tried, and the verdict of a jury settles the questions raised, the Washington Medallion Pen Company claim that the words “Washington Medallion ” constitute a trade mark, and that such trade mark is its property. And hereby cautions the trade and the public against buying or selling Pens marked “Washington Medallion” unless they are the manufacture of the Washington Medallion Pen Company.”

Just over a week later, we hear from the other side.

1864 harrison bradford

Washington Medallion Pen. – An advertisement appeared in the special notices of the New York Herald of August 4, emanating from the so called Washington Medallion Pen Company, which is calculated to deceive dealers and the public. As it has ever been and is our desire to protect the public from deceit, we state that the so-styled Washington Medallion Pen Company have not made a pen of any description since 1860. The pen works of said company, after lying idle for fifteen months, were, with all original dies, tools and machinery, requisite for making said pens sold to us on March 11, 1862. Since that time the said pens have been manufactured by ourselves and by no one else. We repeat our caution to purchasers that the only genuine Washington Medallion Pen is that inscribed, “Harrison & Bradford’s Washington Medallion Pen.” the so-called Washington Medallion Pen Company obtained an ex parte affidavit, an injunction restraining us from making and vending said pens, which injunction was, on our application, and after hearing both sides, dissolved by his Honor G. G. Barnard as reported in the Herald of August 2.

Harrison & Bradford

Steel Pen Manufacturers

136 W. Thirty-seventh street, NY

What starts to become clear is that Albert Granger held the design patent, and licensed it to the Washington Medallion Pen Company. In 1860 the Washington Medallion Pen Company slowed or stopped production of the pens, and in 1862 they sold the machines, tools and dies to Harrison and Bradford who had formed their own company for making pens in the same location as the former Washington Medallion Pen company’s factory, at 136 W. 37th St. in New York City.

So, what happened to Granger and the Washington Medallion Pen Company around 1860-62 that would cause them to sell the machinery, dies, etc… used to make their eponymous product?

Albert Granger and the Failed Gun Sight Business

We get a hint of what happened in the testimony of a later lawsuit, from 1867. This lawsuit is brought by a Rufus K. McHarg against the Washington Medallion Pen Company. According to the testimony of the various parties it appears that around 1861, Albert Granger, the Secretary of the Washington Medallion Pen Company was going bankrupt. He and Rufus K. McHarg decided that this new war (American Civil War) might provide a way to make some money. We know from the Harrison and Bradford case, that in 1862 the machinery from the Washington Medallion company was sold to Harrison & Bradford. It may be that with this money, and money lent by McHarg, Granger went into the business of making gun-sights he hoped to sell to the government. As collateral for this loan from McHarg, he took out a mortgage on the gun-sight machinery as owned by the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

So, Granger thought he could sent up his own business making gun-sights instead of pens, sold the pen machinery to H&B, borrowed money mortgaged against assets of the Washington Medallion Pen company, and then the gun sights never sold to the government. They were returned as defective. Meanwhile, McHarg had bought up other judgments against Granger (who, it will be remembered, is going backrupt) and then confronted Granger with both these judgments as well as information that it was illegal for a corporation to mortgage it’s own property, and demanded to foreclose on the mortgage and claim the machinery.

This brought the whole enterprise into the open. Washington Medallion’s attorneys, Abbott and Fuller, got engaged and the case went to trial. The judge eventually ruled that Granger had made this deal without the formal approval of the board of Washington Medallion, and that it went far beyond the articles of incorporation, which were for making steel pens not gun sights. The judge also determined that the plaintiff had already received more than the amount of the original note plus interest. So, the suit was dropped in favor of the defendants.

Washington Medallion vs. Harrison, Bradford, et. al. gets a judgment.

In the case against Harrison and Bradford, the plaintiffs pointed to the defendants not just making pens with the Washington Medallion name, and containing the medallion of Washington’s head, but also to the form and decoration of the boxes in which they sold their pens.

They submitted multiple exhibits showing the similarities. As you can see below from photos of the actual exhibits from the court case, the similarities are striking. It is clear that Harrison and Bradford fully intended for people to think that these were the real Washington Medallion Pens. And it’s clear from the text on the back of their box that they felt it truly was the one and only Washington Medallion Pen.

The text on the back of the Harrison and Bradford Washington Medallion Pen box.

NOTICE

Messrs. Harrison & Bradford, beg to inform Dealers and the public generally, that the Patent claim on the enclosed Pens, expired on the 15th day of April 1863.

They would also inform all parties that on the 11th day of March 1862 they purchased from the Patentee, All the Original Dies, Tools & Machinery for Manufacturing the Washington Medallion Pen, and they Manufactured the same until the 15th day of December 1863 under Contract.

We now put all Washington Medallion Pens before the public with our own name in full “HARRISON & BRADFORD’S WASHINGTON MEDALLION PEN” All Pens not bearing our STamp, will be imitations only of the the Original & Genuine Pen. Manufactured at 136 West 37th St. N.Y.

N.B. Be sure and see that the Pens are stamped “Harrison & Bradford’s Washington Medallion Pen” only the Pens so stamped are the Original and Genuine Pens.

Picture of the original Washington Medallion Pen box
Washington Medallion Pen Co. vs. Harrison and Bradford, exhibit A

 

Picture of the Harrison & Bradford Washington Medallion Pen box
Washington Medallion Pen Co. vs. Harrison and Bradford, exhibit B

The judgement in the Harrison & Bradford case was finally handed down in 1866, two years after the initial filing. The court found for Washington Medallion and against Harrison and Bradford. Harrison & Bradford were required to submit to an audit by a court-appointed referee to determine how much they were required to pay to Washington Medallion. After examining the records, it was determined by the adjudicator that:

  • In less than a two-year period, Harrison & Bradford sold about 185,000 gross of pens (at 144 per gross, that’s 26,640,000 pens in less than two years!)
  • They made a profit of about $0.10 (ten cents) per gross on a price of $1.50 per gross (margins were so low because they were competing with British manufacturers who had much lower manufacturing costs so could sell their pens cheaper). As a reference, a decade later Esterbrook was selling their top-selling pen, the 048 Falcon, for $0.75 per gross.
  • As a result, the court found Harrison and Bradford liable for a payment of $18,000

Harrison & Bradford after the trial

Harrison & Bradford went on to a successful business making their own pens for another decade or more. In the immediate aftermath, though, they separated from Eberhard Faber and began selling their own pens directly.

I found an interesting document dated to July of 1866, just a few months after the ruling by the judge. Their letterhead still says “Sole Manufacturer of the Genuine Washington Medallion Pen” and it informs a stationer customer “We beg to inform you, that the Agency held by Mr. Eberhard Faber, for the exclusive sale of goods manufactured by us, ceases to exist from this date. We now intend to send out all Pens made by us from the manufactory, where we shall be pleased to receive your orders, either for goods bearing our stamp, or any name and style you may desire.”

It then attaches a price list for their Harrison & Bradford pens. The price list still includes the Washington Medallion pen, which shows that the letter and list pre-dates the ruling earlier that year. This just proves that Harrison & Bradford had not put all of their pen-making eggs in the Washington Medallion basket and were making a full line of pens, which is at least partially why they continued in business even after being forced to stop making Washington Medallion pens.

1866 Wash Med letter 1
Harrison & Bradford letter and price list from 1866
Harrison & Bradford price list from 1866
Harrison & Bradford price list from 1866

The Esterbrook Lawsuit

Washington Medallion was not finished with lawsuits in the 1860’s. They also brought suit against another upstart pen company copying their designs, the Esterbrook Steel Pen Manufacturing Company.

Washington Medallion Pen Co. v. Esterbrook, Case No. 17,246a, Circuit Court, S.D. New York, 29 F. Cas. 366; 1869 U.S. App. LEXIS 1173; MS, 1869.

In 1868, a Federal Court in New Jersey handed down a judgement against Esterbrook that created federal precedent and was quoted in legal textbooks on trade mark law for many decades after.

Washington Medallion Pen Company vs. The Esterbrook Steel Pen Manufacturing Company went beyond protecting their name, as was the core of the suit against Harrison and Bradford. In this case they sued to extend trade mark protection to their emblems, packaging and other “distinguishing features” of their pens.

The judgment decreed that the defendants would…

… forthwith to desist from directly or indirectly stamping or causing to be stamped on pens, or selling or vending pens on which are stamped the words “Washington Medallion” or either of them; also from stamping or causing to be stamped on pens, or selling or vending pens on which are stamped a head in profile or otherwise surrounded by a rim forming a medallion mark; also from putting up, or packing, or selling, or vending pens on any denomination or description, in boxes of the same or similar construction as the boxes originally adopted by the Washington Medallion Pen Company in the year 1857; also from covering pen-boxes of any form or structure with labels of the same colors or colors of the same nature or appearance as the colors originally adopted by the Washington Medallion Pen Company; also from printing or causing to be printed on labels of pen-boxes the phrases, “Let Americans write with American pens,” and “Our country now and forever,” or any transposition of the words composing these phrases, or any phrases of like import, or any fanciful ornamentation in colorable imitation of those used by the Washington Medallion Pen Company on the labels of their boxes; also from selling or vending any pens or boxes of pens on which are stamped, pressed, cut, printed or engraved any of the aforementioned trade-marks of the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

The case was found in the favor of Washington Medallion setting a federal precedent for what was and what was not covered under a trade-mark. At this time there was no federal trade mark protection, only on a state-by-state basis could your trade makrs be protected. This finding in federal court led the way to the first federal trade mark law in 1871.

Between this and a later case in 1872 against Esterbrook by Gillott of the UK, which Esterbrook also lost, US trade mark law was defined in the early years.

Epilogue

By 1869 Albert Granger finally declares bankruptcy. By 1870 he is no longer associated with Washington Medallion. But the company must have purchased a perpetual license for making the pens because they continue to be sold nationally up through the 1880’s, including as far away as Honolulu, Hawaii in 1872. Even in 1881, they continue to use the lawsuits to promote the popularity of the pen as seen in this ad which ran in the main trade publications of the time: Geyer’s and American Stationer.

EPSON MFP image

Albert Granger died in 1906, and Albert Eastman in 1891. By the 1870’s, Fuller and Abbott had moved from lawyers for the company to officers of the same. In an annual report from 1878, Fuller is noted as the President of the Washington Medallion Pen Company. When the company finally folded is not clear. But by the mid-1880’s no more evidence can be found of the company or advertisements or even requests for proposals, which usually last longer than the companies.

Harrison and Bradford go on to not only run their own successful pen company, but eventually break up and go on to help found two other major pen manufacturers in the latter decades of the 19th, and into the 20th-centuries: Turner & Harrison, and Miller Brothers.

By 1890, the company who set so many “first” in the US steel pen industry, including the first to bring British tool makers, the first to advertise nationally, the first to assert trade mark protections in court, etc… finally passed into obscurity during the golden age of steel pens in the US. What is amazing is that a company who only ever made one style of pen would be able to last as long as it did. A testament to the quality of the pens and the loyalty of their customers.

A Washington Medallion Pen from the author's collection
A Washington Medallion Pen from the author’s collection

Court Documents and Special Thanks

I wish to offer special thanks to Fountain Pen Network user Welch who so graciously took the time to go to the courthouse archive in New York City and photographed the records of the trial against Harrison & Bradford. This part of steel pen history would have been woefully incomplete without his hours and hours wrestling stiff, old documents which probably hadn’t been looked at since they were filed in 1867.

You can see what these documents originally looked like and how difficult it would have been to photograph with a hand-held camera. (no photo stands or photocopying could be used with these fragile documents)

 

Photo of part of the plaintiff's complaint
Washington Medallion Pen vs. Harrison and Bradford: Photo of part of the plaintiff’s complaint

 

example of defendant's response to the complaint
Washington Medallion vs. Harrison and Bradford et. al., example of defendant’s response to the complaint

 

And for those who may be interested in the transcriptions, I have transcribed, to the best of my ability, these old documents, and included the primary ones in a single document.

WMPC vs HandB Cout transcripts

 

What’s new – Washington Medallion, part 2

I have just added a new section to the history of the Washington Medallion Pen Company. In this post I introduce the early history of the company and show how they are the first US pen company to try for a true, national market. They were distributed and sold all over the eastern US, and as least as far west as Milwaukee, which was considered “The West” at the time.

I also received a correction from Neil Musante, the C.C. Wright scholar who helped me so much on the Wright entry. He’s sent me a corrected image for Wright. I’ve corrected the image on the page, and I thank him for setting me straight.

Pen History, 1850’s: The Washington Medallion Pen Company, Part 2

The Early Years: 1855-1859

In 1855, a group of merchants and investors in New York City incorporated to form the American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company.

1856 American steel pen ad
From the Buffalo Daily Republic, Buffalo, NY, June 18, 1856

I’ve seen one example of their pens. It takes a standard form found in British pens of the time known as an Albata Pen. The pen itself, despite its rather poor condition, shows evidence of quality workmanship, like a double, or parallel grind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
American Steel Pen Manufacturing Co. (N.Y.), Albata Pen
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American Steel Pen Manufacturing Co., Albata Pen
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Evidence of a double grind

On April 15, 1856, the Secretary of the company, Albert Granger, was granted a design patent (Design Patent, April 15, 1856, D000780) for a pen that included a medallion of George Washington on the body of the pen. They named it the Washington Medallion Pen. They began to produce and sell this pen immediately.

WashMedPenEngrav50pct

I’ve found no evidence that the American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company sold any other pens once they developed the Washington Medallion Pen. And there is evidence that they dropped all former designs to produce only this new one for the rest of their history.

In an article in the April, 1857 issue of United States Magazine titled “How Steel Pens are Made: A visit to the manufactory of the Washington Medallion Steel Pen Company” which we have already seen contains a history of pens before the 1850’s, and to which we will come back for a more detailed examination in a later post, it mentions that the Washington Medallion Pen Company is a company who eschews the “variety” offered by other companies and instead adopts “the principle that variety is not a necessity with the consumer – but, on the contrary, uniformity in excellence and designation would more certainly meet the great public desire…” In other words, we’re only going to make one type of pen, and make it with the very highest quality workmanship and consistency.

On the 10th of February, 1857, the Washington Medallion Pen Company was incorporated under the laws of the city, county and state of New York. It was subject to the control of the owners of the American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company.

1857 Wash med and ASPMC ad
From the New Orleans Picayune, Jan. 15, 1857

In 1857, the company went on an advertising spree. One of the things that makes Washington Medallion different from the earlier pen makers is that they actively marketed to a national audience. We find ads in places like New Orleans (above), as well as (all from 1857):

Wilmington, North Carolina

1857 Wilmington NC

Washington, D. C.

1857 Wash DC

Louisville, Kentucky

1857 Louisville KY

Milwaukee, Wisconsin (a relatively remote market, still considered part of “The West” at that point, at least from a New Yorker’s viewpoint)

1857 Milwaukee

Burlington, VT

1857 Burlington VT

Hartford, CT (this one’s interesting because it dismisses all of the marketing hype you are seeing from British pens who are starting to claim all kinds of novel coatings to help reduce rusting)

1857 Hartford CT

And in the nationally distributed North American Review magazine.

Sardinia

and yes, that’s newly elected President James Buchanan writing from his home in Wheatland, Pennsylvania just after he was elected President, and only a couple of months before taking office in March of 1857.

Washington Medallion and a Nativist Agenda

There is one common element you find in all of the ads: the stress on Washington Medallion Pens being made in America and the importance of using American Pens for American uses.

Leaving aside the patently false claim that it’s the only pen made in America at the time (let alone the claim in the first ad above that it was the “first steel pen manufactory“), Washington Medallion made as a centerpiece of their marketing and identity that they are an American pen, made in America, by Americans. This reflects the strong nativist movement that grew in the 1840’s-50’s that is most often noted for it’s reaction against immigration, but also resulted in a push to buy American products over foreign imports.

It’s interesting to see the company often quote statistics of how much American money is being sent to Britain to buy British pens. President Buchanan is only responding to a strong pro-American sentiment when he finds it instructive that we’re sending $1,000,000 a year to Britain. And, it’s curious to note how the claim grew from $500,000 a year in the early 1857 ads, to $1,000,000 by the late 1857 ads. Did they get better data, or was a half-million not quite enough, but a nice, round million-dollars was more striking?

There’s no way I’ve found to confirm or dispute this amount, and considering the validity of their other claim to being the sole pen made in America (Myer Phineas was making his pens just blocks away from Washington Medallion), I’m not inclined to completely believe their numbers at face value. Regardless of the actual total, it was true that British pens dominated the market and no American pen had been able to successfully compete on a large scale before.

In the United States Magazine article mentioned above, after portraying the history of steel pen production in America as a failure to that point (1857), it then states,

During the last two years not only has the acme of excellence been produced in the manufacture of American steel pens, but their decided superiority is rapidly checking importations, thus distributing among our own people over one million dollars per annum that formerly went abroad.

The next section, telling the origin story for the company, is worth quoting in full to give you an idea of the tone of heroic narrative they seemed to favor when telling their story.

This national triumph has been accomplished by a number of able and spirited individuals, who associated themselves together, according to the General Manufacturing Law of New York, under the title of “The Washington Medallion Pen Company.” They commenced operations by erecting a substantial factory on Thirty-seventh street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues, in this city. After securing “competent artisans,” they, at an early day, discovered the rock on which all their predecessors were wrecked – adherence to English styles and trade-marks – which necessitated a competition in the market at the prices at which English pens were offered; presenting no new feature to the consumers, they could not attract the notice of the people or engage the interests of the merchants. To sail clear of this rock the efforts of this Company were directed. Adopting the principle that variety is not a necessity with the consumer – but, on the contrary, uniformity in excellence and designation would more certainly meet the great public desire – it instituted thorough experiments with all known styles of steel pens, and made several entirely new shapes, with the view to ascertain what shape would produce the most natural and generally agreeable action. With this view, and after fully six months devoted to experiments, they perfected a pen of unrivaled shape and excellence – to protect which from infringement they adopted as a trademark a medallion head of Washington; this is secured by letters patent, and is stamped on every pen. Thus fully comprehending the underlying principles of this important branch of manufactures, and boldly striking out a new path in accordance with them, this Company has firmly planted this new interest on American soil.

Let’s unpack some of this.

The site of their factory at 136 W. 37th St. is long gone, but we do know the names of two of those “competent artisans” mentioned in the article. George Harrison and George Bradford first appear in N.Y. directories in 1856 living together in the same boarding house just blocks from the factory at 141 W. 36th. Initially they’re identified as “toolmaker” but by the next year they’re listed as “pen maker.”

They can’t have been in the states for very long because in the 1851 British census we find them still in Birmingham.

George Bradford, 22, living with his widowed father, George. The senior George’s trade is listed as “penholder maker” and George Jr. and his older brother John are identified as “pen tool makers.” He lived at 48 William St. in Birmingham with his father and 6 other siblings.

The most likely candidate for our George Harrison in the 1851 English census is the son of Joseph Harrison (retired silver maker) and Mary. They all live at 66 Garrison Lane, Aston, Birmingham. At age 22 he is listed as a toolmaker along with his two brothers in the same trade.

How Harrison and Bradford arrived in the US is still a mystery. Whether they took ship in hopes of finding their fortune, or if they were recruited by one of the principles of the company to come to America and help them start a new pen company, we may never know. We do know that Albert Eastman, the President of the new American Steel Pen company, was also involved in importing silks and other fancy goods. Most of the fancy goods sold in the US of the time were made in England, so it’s not unreasonable to think that either he visited there, or had extensive contacts in the country to effect this recruitment. Until we can find a record of immigration, it will be difficult to determine when and how they arrived in the US.

[Edit: since the original publication of this entry, I’ve come across a citation from an 1863 encyclopedia entry discussing female employment in the steel pen industry, which states that Washington Medallion brought women from England who had worked in the steel pen industry there, presumably in Birmingham, to work in their factory. If they went to the trouble of bringing skilled workers, it’s almost certain they also brought the skilled tool makers as well. I propose that this strengthens the argument that Harrison and Bradford were brought to the US, rather than came on their own and stumbled upon Washington Medallion.]

Why would they leave Britain and come to the US? We get a glimpse of the Birmingham steel industry in an article from just a few years later in Cornish’s Stranger’s Guide Through Birmingham. In it, the author writes, under the heading of “Miscellaneous Manufactures in Metals” :

Steel Pens. – This trade has its origin here about 1829, the first pens being made by Mr. Joseph Gillott, [ed.: notice how even as early as 1860’s the history of the pen industry is focusing on only the big names, and forgetting the real pioneers] whose name has since become so closely identified with the trade. Mr. Gillott’s manufactory (Graham Street) is open to visitors on application. There are twelve steel pen makers in Birmingham. Messrs. Hinks and Wells, Buckingham Street; Mr. Mason, Lancaster Street; Mr. Mitchell, Newhall Street, and Cumberland Street; and Mr. Brandauer, New John Street West, being amongst the principal. The number of men employed in the trade is 360, and of women and girls 2,050, besides whom a large number of box-makers, &c., are constantly engaged. The quantity of steel used weekly for the production of pens is about ten tons, and the number of pens made weekly, 98,000 gross, i.e., that is 1,176,000 dozen, or 14,112,000 separate pens. Thus, in one year, pens enough are made in Birmingham almost to supply one pen to every existing member of the human race. The prices range from 12s to 1 1/2d. per gross. To quote a recent writer (from whom most of these facts are taken) when it is remembered that each gross requires 144 pieces of steel to go through at least twelve processes, the fact that 144 pens can be sold for 1 1/2 d. is a singular example of the results attainable by the division of labour and the perfection of mechanical skill.”

Birmingham was the epicenter of the largest manufacturers of pens in the world, but that also meant there were a lot of young men being trained in the specialized trade, with, most likely, not enough job openings for a well-trained tool maker. We know, from the biography of another steel pen maker from Birmingham who came to America just a few years later, John Turner, that after his apprenticeship in the English manufactories, he went overseas to France to learn how they made pens there.

Other countries who were just starting to get their pen industries off the ground would have been tempting locations to try your luck and see if you could make it big in a new market. America, with its large population, high literacy rate, who was hungry for British pens, was ripe for a new pen manufacturer run under English methods and using the latest tools and techniques from Birmingham. Harrison and Bradford were just the men to help.

And why would Granger, et. al. go all the way to England to find someone to help them make pens? The answer lies in the same article from the United States Magazine. Of course, it’s highly likely that Harrison and Bradford had some say in the following description of the importance of the tool maker in the pen industry.

“Upon the make and prefect truthfulness of the tools depend the quality of the pens. The tools are manufactured on the premises by artists who are known as pen-tool makers. These tool makers rank in Birmingham as the best machanics [sic] in England, and command higher wages than any other mechanics in that country. They are the chiefs of their shops – all the work being performed under their charge and responsibility.”

Thus is how Harrison & Bradford are seen, at least by themselves, but it’s not far from the truth. Past pen-making enterprises were less able to get the right level of flexibility and finish to allow them to compete with the British pens. But all of them had relied on American tools and American tool makers. Washington Medallion showed the value of bringing British tool makers from Birmingham, and making the tools here, in the British style. This is a pattern followed a few years later by Richard Esterbrook.

By 1859, you no longer find Washington Medallion directly advertising. Stationers will still advertise them, but you find no more advertisements until 1860.

1860 is a crucial year for the Washington Medallion Pen Company, as we will see in our next post.

 

What’s new: More history – Washington Medallion, and stub pens.

I’ve just posted the most recent chapter in the history of the steel pen. This is the first installment of the story of the Washington Medallion Pen Company. This promises to be a rather more involved and detailed look at the most important of the 1850’s pen companies.

Washington Medallion set several precedents including hiring experienced British tool makers to run their pen-making operations, suing for trademark infringement, appealing to the newly energized nativist sentiment running through new political parties like the Know Nothings by exhorting their customers to “let American children write with American pens.”

Washington Medallion is also very different from other pen companies in the US or anywhere in that they only produced one style of pen, instead of the hundreds of styles some companies, like Esterbrook, once produced.

This first installment gives a brief summary of the company. It will be followed by further chapters covering the major eras of the company, including the legal battles, the people involved, some of whom go on to found other, more famous pen companies, and the role Washington Medallion had in the beginnings of the Golden Age of steel pens in the US.

Also, in case you missed it, I recently added another post on a common style of steel pen, the stub. Many folks interested in fountain pens are familiar with stub nibs, but their predecessor is the stub dip nib. These came in many sizes and styles for various uses, but their common ancestor was most definitely the quill pen.

Pen History, 1850’s: The Washington Medallion Pen Company, Part 1

Introduction

We’ve covered the history of steel pens in the US from the early days up through the 1840’s. The 1850’s is when we see the beginnings of the major companies that dominate the US pen industry for the next 70 years, and the opening scenes of the Golden Age of steel pen production in the US.

The first of these companies I will cover, the Washington Medallion Pen Company, was dominate for a shorter time, but they were very influential in their advertising as well as their emphasis on being an American company, distinct from the British imports which were flooding the market at the time.

The Washington Medallion Pen Company is also important to the history of the US steel pen industry because of the people who worked there and the various legal fights which impacted and were impacted by some of the most important figures in writing implements in the US, including Esterbrook, Harrison & Bradford, and even Eberhard Faber.

I’m going to start with a brief overview and summary of the company’s story. I will then create separate entries for each of the major periods of the company’s history, as well as show examples of their important ads, and touch upon some of the key lawsuits which impacted the direction of the industry.

Overview

In 1855 some merchants from the City of New York, including Albert Granger, former owner of a dry goods establishment, and Albert L. Eastman, an importer of silks and fancy goods merchant, formed the American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company. Eastman was the President and Granger was the Secretary.

On April 15, 1856, Albert Granger is granted a design patent for a steel pen that includes an embossed medallion showing the head of George Washington. The Washington Medallion Pen Company was incorporated in New York on 10 February 1857. The Washington Medallion Pen was popular, and was sold into the 1880’s. This was the first long-term, successful, pen company in the US with a national market.

In 1856 we are also introduced for the first time to two important figures in the history of American steel pens: George Harrison and George Bradford. In the NYC directory for 1856/57, these two young men are listed as toolmakers and live in the same boarding house on 141 W. 36th ST., just blocks from where their employer, The American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company was located.

Harrison and Bradford were both from Birmingham, both trained in the pen factories there. Whether they were brought by Eastman and Granger, or they came and were recruited by the same, we’ll never know. What we do know is that these two young, trained toolmakers were soon followed by another group of experienced, British pen makers. These men, including John Turner, helped found the greatest US steel pen manufacturer, Esterbrook, just a few years later (1860) in Philadelphia. The pattern of importing experienced British tool makers and pen manufacturers, which helped make Esterbrook so successful, was originally set by The Washington Medallion Pen Company.

Washington Medallion’s early years are marked by great self-promotion and advertising, a shameless appeal to nationalism, and financial and legal difficulties. Its middle years see a great deal of lawsuits and legal trouble, which eventually settles down into a gradual dissipating into relative obscurity while still producing pens.

Eastman leaves the company sometime in the middle period and continues with his importing, silk and fancy goods business until his death in 1891. Granger stays with the company until around 1870. He lives on in retirement until passing away in 1909.

Harrison and Bradford continue to exert a great influence on the pen industry until their deaths later in the century: both founding their own company, Harrison & Bradford, then later splitting up to help found the second largest pen company in the US (Turner & Harrison), as well as starting up the pen operations for another major manufacturer, Miller Brothers. More on their story later, but first lets look at the early years of the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

Next up: The Early Years: 1855-1860

 

 

The Stub Pen

I received a question about stub tip steel pens. A stub tip is broader across than a pointed pen. They come in a variety of widths, sharpness of corners, and a few are even flexible. Which one you need depends on what you’re wanting to do: italic writing, regular rapid writing, ornamental engrossing, etc…

The stub pointed pen was developed fairly early in the history of steel pens as an alternative to the sharp, pointed pen for people who wrote a great deal, and needed to write more quickly, with less effort.* A pointed pen, especially a flexible one, requires a lot of small movements up and down off the paper, even if it’s not terribly flexible, in addition to the two dimensions across the paper. This is because pointed pens require heavier and lighter touches depending on if you’re writing a down or upstroke. Upstrokes need to have a very light touch to prevent the tip from catching on the paper.

Stub pens were advertised as a true replacement for the smooth writing quill pens. Most quills were not cut to a sharp point, but had a slight cross-cut made to the very tip. The steel stub pen mimics this cut.

Italic or engrossing stubs differ from their rapid-writing cousins by the sharpness of their corners. The corner of the tip, affects both the smoothness of the writing, and the crispness of the line. For decorative writing, “engrossing” in the older terminology, you need a sharper corner to make a clean and thin line.

For rapid and easy writing, you need a smoother, more rounded corner. This is one less thing to get caught in fast upstrokes and side strokes. The line also tends to be less crisp.
Mostly, stubs come in three sizes of nib: small, medium and long. This is not related to the size of the tip (fine, medium and broad), but to the size of the nib. And then there are the falcon stubs. (like the 442 Jackson stub)

From Esterbrook alone, I would recommend the 314 Relief Pen (“It’s a Relief to write with”). This nib was so popular that when Esterbrook first started experimenting with fountain pens (made by Wirt, De La Rue, and eventually Conway Stewart), out of all of the nibs they made, they chose the 314 Relief to be the nib. (before the interchangeable Renew-point nibs)

Or the Esterbrook 239 Chancellors. This is a smaller sized stub that’s a lot of fun to write with. Very smooth and a long-time top seller as well.

Or if you’re looking for a broader nib, the 313 Probate. Shelby Foote wrote his 3000+ page opus on the American Civil War using this pen. It’s what they used to call a “coarse” but we today call “broad” stub.

For a finer stub, the 312 Judge’s quill, though I find the 239 and 314 much nicer to write with.

Hunt made a very nice small size stub, almost identical to the 239, called the 62 (X-62 silverine model). I have a bunch of those and they are quite smooth and a lot of fun to use.

For the medium size (length) stubs, I’m also fond of the Spencerian Society Stubs, which come up periodically on eBay. They’re flashy with their gold coating, and very high quality, as you expect from Spencerian nibs.

Spencerian also made a very nice falcon stub called the Subway Stub that’s almost as good as the Jackson.

And no discussion of stubs would be complete without mentioning the extraordinary Spencerian 28 Congressional. A medium-broad long stub pen, but what makes it so amazing is that it’s a fully flexible stub. Not everyone’s cup of tea, and not necessarily practical for everyday writing, but soooo much fun to write with.

There are literally hundreds of styles, but these are some which are more commonly run across in online auctions and other sources of vintage stub dip pens. And perhaps honorable mention should also go to the less common, but very fun, Esterbrook 284 Blackstone stub. A very broad “signature stub” in a striking black coating.

different stubs

Writing with a dip stub is different than writing with a fountain pen stub nib. The best way to write, which gives you the best results is to change the orientation of the nib and paper so that the broad edge of the stub is parallel to the line of writing.

When writing with an italic nib, to write italic style letters, you hold the nib at about a 45-degree angle to the line of writing. Here’s a cheesy ASCII representation of the nib to the line

/
———

With a dip stub, when you’re writing regular (i.e. cursive, not Italic) script, keep the nib parallel to the line of writing. This usually requires you to turn the page a bit, and keep your arms in towards your body.

_
——–

Here’s a comparison between a stub nib (Hunt x-62) on the left, and a pointed pen (Eagle E840 Modern Writing) on the right. The stub was held parallel to the line of writing.

stub_pointed_comparison

 

The Story of the Esterbrook #442 Jackson Stub.

And as a historical side note (I can’t help myself sometimes), the introduction of Esterbrook’s famous 442 Jackson Stub has some little bit of drama around it.

In 1886, a small, but quality producer of steel pens in Philadelphia, Leon Isaacs, develops and trademarks a pen called the #12 Falcon Stub. Isaacs was very careful about trademarking his designs and branding, and in this case he trademarked both the terms “Falcon Stub” as well as “Stub Falcon.”

Here’s an ad from early in 1887 that shows the #12.

1887 Leon Isaacs 12 pens

In 1889, just a few years later, Leon Isaacs & Co. had a bit of a rough patch.

First, in July, Leon Isaacs’ long-time partner, Michael Voorsanger, lost his grown son, who at 23 seemed destined for success, but was struck down in minutes by a mysterious hemorrhage.  Michael was on the road on business and rushed home and was reported as “very sick from the shock.”

Just a few months later, in September, Leon Isaacs himself died. Voorsanger, along with two of Leon’s sons: Alexander Leon Isaacs, and Judah Leon Isaacs took over the business. (Judah would later found J. L. Isaacs pens in New York City)

1889 Leon Isaacs obit

And then in late October, Esterbrook, the 800-pound gorilla in the industry, makes the following announcement which, while not outright saying so, implies that they saw a need and invented a new pen to fill it.

October 31, 1889 “American Stationer”
Page 1105
“The ‘Jackson’ Stub Pen
The “Falcon” is undoubtedly the most popular form of fine pointed steel pen ever put on the market. There has been a steady call for a pen of similar style, but with a stub point. In response to this the Esterbrook Pen Company has just put on the market a pen filling these requirements. This new pen is known as the “Jackson Stub,” and an illustration of it is presented herewith. The pen has a smooth, easy action, and possesses qualities which will commend it to those who wish a thoroughly effective pen for rapid writing.

1889 Jackson stub announcement

 

And then ran an ad featuring the new pen.

1889 Jackson stub ad

In December, the new management of Leon Isaacs & Co. won’t let that lie. They come out with a new version of their advertisement which now  highlights their falcon stub and includes the following new text.

The Title “FALCON STUB,” or “STUB FALCON,” is Copyrighted and Registered May 8, 1866, at Patent Office, Washington, D.C., by LEON ISAAC’S & CO

1889 Leon Isaacs ad with stub falcon

It’s interesting to note, that Esterbrook never uses the term Stub Falcon or Falcon Stub for decades after the introduction of the 442 Jackson Stub. You will find the term used by other companies later, 1930’s or so, but that is long after Leon Isaacs & Co was sold to Turner & Harrison, and long after any kind of trademark would have expired.

A small victory for a company who had a very, very bad year in 1889.

 

*I’ve encountered this explanation for stub pens in several places. One was contained in the history of turned-up points as explained by Esterbrook in The American Stationer in 12 February 1889, p. 331

Turned Up Point Pens

The first steel pens made in Birmingham about the year 1837, while providing a ready made instrument for penmen, failed to give that ease in writing which was the characteristic of the old quill. They were uniformly fine pointed and naturally more or less scratchy. The remedy for this was not found until a generation later, when the demand for an easier writing pen because imperative. Manufacturers began to make them with blunt and broad points.

In 1871 the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company made its first stub pen, No. 161, and now the company has as many as eighteen numbers of stub pens on its catalogue. This did not completely satisfy the demands until the happy idea occurred to turn up the points. This rendered the evolution of the pen complete.

In 1876 the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company produced its 1876 Telegraphic, followed shortly after by No. 256 Tecumseh, and No. 309 Choctaw. At the special request of many the Falcon pen was made in this style. Another pen has now been added to the list, and is known as No. 477 Postal. This is a size larger than the Choctaw, with finer points.

The perfect ease afforded by these pens contributes one of the most valuable luxuries provided for writers at this end of the century. The penman can write longer with less fatigue than with the ordinary styles. The tediousness of writing is almost entirely avoided, and the relief is so complete that it converts a drudgery into a delight and a pain into a pleasure, and anyone who has taken up one of these turned up point pens for a companion will never consent to be without it.

Choosing a Quill

From Practical Penmanship, Being a Development of the Carstairian System.

The short section on how to choose a quill. A little bit of worthless information for Halloween.

The first quill in the wing is small, hard, thick in the barrel, and of little value. It may easily be known by the feather; one side of which is very narrow, and of uniform width, from the barrel to the tip. The second is esteemed the best in the wing; is of good size; makes the finest and most durable point; and, if properly manufactured, is very elastic. The narrow side of the feather, about one third from the top, suddenly dents in, nearly to the width of that of the first. The third is hardly to be distinguished from the second, in any respect. The fourth is larger, somewhat softer, and more elastic than the second and third; but does not hold its point so well. The whole narrow side of the feather is a little wider than that of the second and third, and is not indented at all. The second, third and fourth are usually put, by the manufacturers, in the same bunch and are called first quality: all the other quills in the wing, except, perhaps, the fifth, are thin and weak, and fit for nothing but to form a feeble, timid hand.

Meanwhile, I’m finding some very interesting things for the next period in our historical survey. I think at some point I need to just write down the outline and fill in the blanks as we go along on this blog thing.

Enjoy!

 

Research Resources: Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ Directories and Resources

Philadelphia

Second only to New York as an important city in the history of US steel pens, Philadelphia resources come from a wide range of sources.

One of the more interesting sources is the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network.  The purpose of the network is to provide the geographical material used in the study of Philadelphia’s history.

These resources include city directories, maps, site surveys, property atlases, etc…

There’s a Resource Browser which has links to various resources from many sources. These include:

  • Aerial Photographs
  • City Directories
  • General Atlas and Directory Maps
  • Historical Divisions and Boundaries
  • Hydrography / Water / Sewer
  • Industrial Site Surveys
  • Land Use / Zoning / Development
  • Neighborhood and Redlining
  • Property Maps / Atlases
  • Property Plans
  • State Maps
  • Street Maps
  • Street Surveys / Plans
  • Topographical Maps
  • Transportation / Railroad Maps

One of the cool tools is the Interactive Maps Viewer which allows you to find a street on a modern map and then overlay historic maps from a list.

As for City Directories, here are the ones I’ve found, including the ones in the Resource Browser mentioned above.

City Directories

There are several sources for city directories, or city-directory-like books.

“City Directory”  or “City Directory and Stranger’s Guide” means that it is a city directory found on archive.org

“Athenaeum” means that it’s a city directory found on the Philadelphia Athenaeum site. These directories show each page individually and are not searchable. it’s a little hard to get around, and takes some figuring out, but sometimes these are the only options.

“Ancestry.com” means that the directory is available on the paid ancestry.com site, but you do need a paid membership to search. Some libraries have ancestry.com memberships that allow you to search, but not save. Check with your friendly, local, librarian.

There are some other, random sources like a city guide or a guide to merchants, or a street directory (which only lists streets and where they cross, etc..). These can be useful depending on what you’re looking for.

NB: the year on the directory may be 1835, for example, but because the information was gathered in 1834, I mark that directory 1834/35.

Year Source
1784/85 City Directory
1785/86
1786/87
1787/88
1788/89
1789/90
1790/91 Philadelphia and her merchants from 70 years ago (1860)

City Directory

1791/92
1792/93 City Directory
1793/94 City Directory
1794/95 City Directory
1795/96 City Directory
1796/97 City Directory
1797/98 City Directory
1798/99 City Directory
1799/00 City Directory
1800/01 City Directory
1801/02 City Directory
1802/03 City Directory
1803/04 City Directory
1804/05 City Directory
1805/06 City Directory
1806/07 City Directory
1807/08 City Directory
1808/09 City Directory
1809/10 City Directory
1810/11 City Census Directory
1811/12
1812/13 City Directory
1813/14 City Directory
1814/15
1815/16 City Directory
1816/17 City Directory
1817/18 City Directory
1818/19 City Directory
1819/20 City Directory
1820/21 City Directory
1821/22 City Directory
1822/23 City Directory
1823/24 City Directory
1824/25 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1825/26
1826/27
1827/28 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1828/29 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1829/30 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1830/31 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1831/32
1832/33 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide:

City Guide

1833/34 City Guide
1834/35
1835/36 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1836/37 City Directory
1837/38
1838/39 City Directory
1839/40 City Directory
1840/41 City Directory
1841/42 City Directory
1842/43 City Directory

Merchants Directory

1843/44 City Directory
1844/45 City Directory
1845/46 City Directory
1846/47 City Directory
1847/48 City Directory
1848/49 City Directory
1849/50 City Directory
1850/51 City Directory
1851/52 City Directory
1852/53 City Directory
1853/54 City Directory
1854/55 City Directory
1855/56/ Athenaeum;

City Directory

1856/57 Athenaeum;

City Directory

1857/58 1857: Philadelphia and her manufacturers

Athenaeum

City Directory

1858/59 City Directory
1859/60 City Directory
1860/61 Athenaeum, Search Athenaeum

City Directory, Boyd’s City Directory

1861/62 City Directory , Ancestry.com
1862/63 City Directory , Ancestry.com
1863/64 City Directory , Ancestry.com
1864/65 City Directory , Ancestry.com
1865/66 Athenaeum

City Directory,

Ancestry.com

1866/67 City Directory,

Ancestry.com

1867/68 1867: Philadelphia and her manufacturers

City Directory,

Ancestry.com

1868/69
1869/70 Ancestry.com
1870/71 Ancestry.com
1871/72 Ancestry.com
1872/73 Ancestry.com
1873/74 Ancestry.com
1874/75 Ancestry.com
1875/76 Ancestry.com
1876/77 Ancestry.com
1877/78 Ancestry.com
1878/79 Ancestry.com
1879/80 Ancestry.com
1880/81 Ancestry.com
1881/82 Ancestry.com
1882/83 Ancestry.com
1883/84 Street directory

Ancestry.com

1884/84 Ancestry.com
1885/85 Ancestry.com
1886/87 Ancestry.com,

Hathi Trust

1887/88 Ancestry.com
1888/89 Ancestry.com
1889/90 Street Directory

Ancestry.com

1890/91 Street Directory

Ancestry.com

1891/92 Ancestry.com
1892/93 Ancestry.com
1893/94 Ancestry.com
1894/95 Boyd’s Co-partnership Directory

Ancestry.com

1895/96 Ancestry.com
1896/97 Ancestry.com,

Boyd’s Co-partnership Directory

1897/98 Ancestry.com,

Boyd’s Co-partnership Directory

1898/99 Ancestry.com,

Boyd’s Co-partnership Directory

1899/00 Ancestry.com,

Boyd’s Co-Partnership Directory

1900/01 Ancestry.com
1901/02 Ancestry.com
1902/03 Ancestry.com
1903/04 Ancestry.com,

Boyd’s Co-Partnership Directory

1904/05 Ancestry.com
1905/06 Ancestry.com
1906/07 Ancestry.com
1907/08 Ancestry.com
1908/09 Ancestry.com
1909/10 Ancestry.com
1910/11 Ancestry.com
1911/12 Ancestry.com
1912/13 Ancestry.com
1913/14 Ancestry.com
1914/15 Ancestry.com
1915/16 Ancestry.com
1916/17 Ancestry.com
1917/18 Ancestry.com
1918/19 Ancestry.com
1919/20
1920/21 Ancestry.com
1921/22 Ancestry.com
1922/23 Ancestry.com
1923/24 Ancestry.com
1924/25 Ancestry.com
1925/26
1926/27
1927/28
1928/29
1929/30 Ancestry.com
1930/31
1931/32
1932/33
1933/34
1934/35 Ancestry.com
1935/36
1936/37
1937/38
1938/39
1939/40
1940/41

 

 

Camden, NJ.

Camden is just across the river from Philadelphia, and is also quite important in the history of the steel pen as the site of the manufacturing facilities for both Esterbrook, and then later, Hunt Pens.

I have found a set of Camden Directories in Ancestry.com, if you have a subscription, starting with 1863. If I find any outside of Ancestry, I’ll post them.

One very interesting site for information on early Camden is a set of Sanborn Maps hosted by Princeton University. These were used by insurance companies and showed detailed building descriptions and plots for important buildings. Here’s a very interesting view of the Esterbrook factory on Cooper St. in 1885.

Sanborn map of 1885 Esterbrook Factory in Camden

The most complete years for these maps is for 1885, 1891 and 1906.

General

For those who are interested in the old city directories, I found an interesting resource. It’s a book from 1919 on “The development and growth of city directories.”

Or there is a directory of directories from 1916.

Pen History: The 1840’s, from the perspective of the 1850’s.

I’ve been covering the history of steel pens up to the 1840’s based as much as possible on the primary sources I’ve been able to find. Up to the 1850’s, the industry had been too new for anyone to indulge in a retrospective. That changed with a new company who wanted to create an identity that placed themselves in opposition to all who had come before.  This was the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

I found this earliest attempt at taking a broader look at history of the US steel pen industry is found in an article in the United States Magazine issue for April of 1857 describing the factory of the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

We’ll be looking at the whole article in another post, and we’ll be talking about the Washington Medallion Pen Company in much greater length elsewhere. At this point I want to look at the following selection from the article and we’ll see if we can trace it step-by-step. It’s important to remember that the author was not trying to paint an accurate, historical view of past pen makers, but was instead helping to build a narrative of the WMPC as something radically new in both its product as well as its success.

Here’s the whole section. After, I’ll take each piece and see what we can find out from it.

About the year 1840, steel pens having become in considerable demand in this country, and the fact of their almost universal adoption being already apparent, the cupidity of certain parties was excited, and they resolved to present steel pens of home manufacture for the public favor. The first effort was by a company in Massachusetts, who perfected some fair specimens for that early day; but, owning to inexperience and the absence of proper tools, tool makers, and a knowledge of slitting, tempering and finishing, their products lacked uniformity of quality; thus the enterprise failed. Soon after, two or three of the principle dealers in stationery in this city experimented in steel pen manufacture. We remember one of them who commenced operations in Brooklyn, and who, after expending some $15,000, followed in the wake of the Eastern Company. Another erected his works in New Jersey, and for some months battled manfully for success; finally he “felt” he must follow his illustrious predecessors. The late C.C. Wright, long known as a prominent engraver and die-sinker, made a most strenuous effort to permanently establish this manufacture. Through his influence, aided by J. C. Barnett, since well known as the treasurer of Burton’s Theater, a company was formed and a capital amounting to $200,000 expended. A large factory was erected on Fifth street, in this city, the most approved machinery and fixtures procured, operations commenced, and ten or twelve varieties of pens produced, many of them of excellent quality; yet, notwithstanding the impetus with which the affair was started, it met with no better success than those before mentioned. We learn of no attempts to resuscitate the business until 1852, when some Birmingham men, who claimed to be experts, induced certain capitalists in New Jersey to “try their money” in the operation. One after the other, two or three companies expended large amounts, each with no better pecuniary results than had been before arrived at.

If you’ve been following the history so far, some of these references should be fairly obvious, but I’m going to look at them one-by-one.

Analysis

About the year 1840, steel pens having become in considerable demand in this country, and the fact of their almost universal adoption being already apparent, the cupidity of certain parties was excited, and they resolved to present steel pens of home manufacture for the public favor.

As I mentioned in my original article on the 1840’s, the British had dominated the pen industry in the 1820’s and 1830’s, and it was in the 1840’s when Americans made a serious effort at manufacturing steel pens. I also mentioned the rising nativist movement of the time, stressing the importance of us buying and supporting American manufacturers.


 

The first effort was by a company in Massachusetts, who perfected some fair specimens for that early day; but, owning to inexperience and the absence of proper tools, tool makers, and a knowledge of slitting, tempering and finishing, their products lacked uniformity of quality; thus the enterprise failed.

This is obviously referring to Josiah Hayden. If you remember, he was trying to set up a steel pen factory out in Western Massachusetts. As far as I’ve been able to find out, he founded the manufactory with all American labor. He brought in mechanics and tool makers from elsewhere in Massachusetts, and from as far away as Connecticut, but as far as I can tell, he was relying on their past experience making steel buttons or cotton mills, or other general manufacturing. There are some similarities between making metal buttons (Hayden’s former product) and steel pens, and with Yankee ingenuity and inventiveness, they were able to figure out how to produce a decent product. The quality was good enough to win silver medals at the American Institute fairs, but then the competition was not very steep. Hayden didn’t last long making steel pens before he sold the business and went on to making gold pens, which was much more of a hand-operation and not as reliant on specialized machinery, dies and knowledge of steel tempering.


 

Soon after, two or three of the principle dealers in stationery in this city experimented in steel pen manufacture. We remember one of them who commenced operations in Brooklyn, and who, after expending some $15,000, followed in the wake of the Eastern Company. Another erected his works in New Jersey, and for some months battled manfully for success; finally he “felt” he must follow his illustrious predecessors.

This is an interesting section. Obviously the second is a reference to David Felt. Felt founded Feltville in New Jeresey as his factory town. Now, Felt was making pens as early as the 1830’s, so he doesn’t fit neatly into the “About the year 1840” narrative, but I’m not counting on this source to give me the most accurate dating.

The real mystery is the reference to the first stationer. The only stationer who I know who had works in Brooklyn, besides Felt, was Herts & Sons. They had their stationery factory in Brooklyn, and Spooner, a stationer in Brooklyn, was one of their main dealers.

1845 Herts sons alpha

It’s interesting that he doesn’t make any mention of Herts’ English antecedents, which may be a mark against Herts being the subject. This only really becomes significant within the context of Washington Medallion’s marketing campaign, which we’ll look at elsewhere, which strongly focused on the fact that these are American Pens, made by Americans, for Americans.


 

The late C.C. Wright, long known as a prominent engraver and die-sinker, made a most strenuous effort to permanently establish this manufacture. Through his influence, aided by J. C. Barnett, since well known as the treasurer of Burton’s Theater, a company was formed and a capital amounting to $200,000 expended. A large factory was erected on Fifth street, in this city, the most approved machinery and fixtures procured, operations commenced, and ten or twelve varieties of pens produced, many of them of excellent quality; yet, notwithstanding the impetus with which the affair was started, it met with no better success than those before mentioned.

We looked at C. C. Wright in some detail. The interesting information here was further identifying J.C. Barnett as the treasurer of Burton’s Theater. Burton’s Theater was one of the first Broadway theaters. The purpose of this section of the magazine article is to compare the operations of Washington Medallion favorably versus the prior efforts at pen making, so all former makers must, at some point, fail. The information we have from C. C. Wright experts, based on the accounts of his life from his grandson, is that C. C. Wright made his money making pens and then sold the business because he had made enough to spend the rest of his life doing what he really wanted to do, engraving and medal making. The truth may never be known, but it may be somewhere between the all good and all failure stories. At least they admit the pens were of high quality.


 

We learn of no attempts to resuscitate the business until 1852, when some Birmingham men, who claimed to be experts, induced certain capitalists in New Jersey to “try their money” in the operation. One after the other, two or three companies expended large amounts, each with no better pecuniary results than had been before arrived at.

This concluding passage is interesting in a couple of ways. One is that I have no solid idea who he’s talking about. Since this is written in 1857, he’s only talking about a five-year period in which two or three companies tried to start, spending lots of money, and failed. That seems rather a shortened time frame. If these really happened then they may have started and closed rather rapidly and left no real trail for me to find.

 

The other interesting point is the fact that the author talks of “Birmingham men” coming in to provide expertise. This is interesting, because this is precisely the pattern we’re going to see in the next two decades, the 1850’s and 1860’s, where it’s transplanted Birmingham men, trained in the main British pen factories, who kick off the first real, sustained wave of successful steel pen businesses in the US. And the first is, ironically enough, the subject of this article, the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

 

 

 

Pen History, the 1840’s: Rhodes/Rhoads mystery, transition to the 1850’s.

When working through 1840’s steel pen advertisements, one will encounter a number of them that seem similar: Rhoads & Sons, Rhodes & Sons, Rhodes & Son, Rhoades & Son’s, Rhoad’s & Sons amalgam pen, patent amalgam pen, patent amalgam double action pens, patent amalgam quill spring pen.

 

1853 Rhoads Sons amalgam pen long ad

1853 Rhodes & Sons

1854 Rhodes and son patent amalgam quill spring pen

Besides pointing out the relative “flexibility” typesetters could have with spelling, we have to answer the question if it really is this “flexibility” to blame, or if there really were more than one similarly-named pen makers.

This question has been plaguing my research for quite a while now, and as far as I can tell, after a great deal of searching, there was only one “Rhoads & Sons” and they were, more fully, Thomas Rhoads & Sons, stationers and manufacturers of pens, pencils, and stationery in London. They produced and sold a great many things, like most good London stationers at the time, ranging from sealing wax to chess sets, from ink wells to blank books.

1848 thomas rhoads and sons sealing wax

1843 Th Rhoads sons pencils mark levy

They are listed in London directories as located at 1 Vine St. and active from 1833-1880.

As I looked over the ads that spanned from 1841 through the 1850’s, I find an interesting thing happening that seems to reflect a larger change in consumer tastes.

The earliest ads did nothing but mention them along with other top British names.

1841 Rhoads mention

But when we look at the ads that came out in the 1850’s, we begin to see a significant change in marketing. These newer ads struck me as more like American pen ads. They were often very verbose about the benefits of the pen (see the first ad above), and highlighted the “newness” and inventiveness of the pens. Most ads for British pens, especially by the 1840’s, merely mention the pen, maybe introduce a new style, and a few anodyne phrases. British pens in the 1830’s and into the 1840’s were viewed as the premium quality pens, against which all others had to be measured.

This is about as wordy as ads for British pens are in the 1840’s. This is a New York City stationer’s ad announcing the new Croton Pen from Gillott.

1844 Gillott intro to Croton pen

But by the 1850’s, American pen makers were becoming more aggressive about both the quality of their pens, but also about being American pens, appealing to a newly insurgent nationalism that became prominent in the 1850’s.

In their 1850’s ads, Rhoads didn’t trumpet their British origins, but instead felt the need to sell to the American public using similar language and styles as other American pens; focusing on innovation, new materials, and styles.

As we move into the 1850’s and see the makers who started in this new decade sell their pens, we’ll see more, and more explicit appeals to the public to buy American pens because they are American. This 1856 ad give you a preview of what we will encounter in the 1850’s.

1856 Wash Med let Am Children quote